A Long History of Injustice Ignored:  Palestine

Preface

As this manual is written, huge walls of 30-40 feet high and 10 feet wide were being built around many Palestinian towns and villages. When these are completed, 3.5 million Palestinians will be confined to some 30-40% of the West Bank and Gaza (itself 22% of historic Palestine). The current Israeli government vision of this “Palestine” is rather clear. It will be a demilitarized, its fertile lands taken away for Israeli settler use, and its impoverished people even now have the highest population density of any country in the Middle East.

This of course provides no long term security or stability for anyone. It need not be this way. It provides no long term treatment/cure for the ills of this crucial region of the world. Better and more durable solutions are provided based on human rights and International law. Some of these are articulated in hundreds of other books and articles. My own book on “Sharing the Land of Canaan” (Pluto Press, forthcoming April 2004) envisions one such solution based on adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Such visions go beyond the soothing treatment of symptoms to address the root causes and etiology of the man-made ills we live with. Just as in South Africa, solutions always involve development towards democracy, evolution of state to treat all their citizens equally, abolishing all racist and discriminatory laws, and respect for the inalienable rights of native people. But, the obvious question raised is how do people go from the confines of the current state to have peace with justice?

First, we must realize that things are not as bleak as some would like us to believe. Already the signs of change are everywhere. Over 1500 Israelis refused to serve in the army of occupation and hundreds of thousands demonstrated. Internationals formed human shields to protect Palestinians under the umbrella of the International Solidarity Movement. Boycotts of Israeli and American companies investing in Israel scored significant successes in the Arab world despite attempts by certain governments to suppress it. This boycott is spreading in Europe and North America. Further, a growing divestment movement in the US has now spread to over 30 University Campuses, and so on.

Amnesty International released a lengthy document on 26 March 2001 titled “Developing a Human Rights Agenda for Peace.” In part, it stated:

Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world (Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) Exhibit 1. Amnesty International calls unreservedly for the full enjoyment of the human rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for all people. A major flaw of the process that began with the Oslo Agreement of 1993 was that peace was not founded on ensuring respect and protection for human rights. The past months have shown more clearly than ever that if human rights are sacrificed in the search for peace and security there will be no peace and no security.Ӕ

Amnesty then articulated its 10 point agenda for peace which include equality and the right of return to refugees based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These two documents provide a blueprint for the only durable peace possible in Palestine/Israel. We as individuals, just like we did with the grassroots movement against the war in Vietnam and with Apartheid South Africa can and must make a difference. For those living in the US, our burden to act is higher. Our tax money is used to support Israel to the tune of 15 million per day, several billions per year and it is our government that stands with Israel in the UN by vetoing resolutions against the wishes of 140 other countries throughout the world. This Amnesty program together with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on which it is based, should constitute the road map to peace. Moving along the road requires direct action by people of conscience everywhere. This is the subject of this book. With a majority in the world having strong convictions in favor of human rights and justice, it is only a matter of translating convictions into actions.

This is a book on tools and techniques of activism learned by collective experiences of generations of activists. My discussion and examples focus on international activism for peace with justice in Israel/Palestine. However, the experiences can be useful to other activists for human rights in any other corner of the world. I compile and summarize experiences based on my own involvement in human rights activism over the past two decades. In going through life and especially as a human rights advocate, we absorb the language and methods of action of those who precede us and those who work with us. Some would use the analogy of building blocks accumulating and developing into what some called the human knowledge building. I personally prefer the analogy of an ecosystem where various species of flora and fauna interact spatially and temporally. Everything is connected to everything else. Taking one individual or even a population out of context would be as artificial as trying to evaluate the African rain forest based on a caged antelope. With that in mind, I will attempt to give a description of the evolving ecosystem of activism with special emphasis on the newly evolved tools such as the Internet and the global connectivity that has become unprecedented in human history.

Perspectives and history

It is difficult to write about this area without acknowledging that language carries a significant baggage of bias and misrepresentation. This inherent weakness can be ameliorated but not completely overcome only be trying to shed as much as possible of our cultural baggage to look at things with a fresh eye. For example, what is it that we mean by the Middle East. East of what? Isn’t the earth round and for those in Taiwan, the US is east of them? Upon careful review, one sees that such a word is Eurocentric with an inherent bias. These words that the colonizers developed have now so inundated our vocabulary that it is difficult to even be aware of our use of them. Further, one could also clearly see that putting maps of the globe always with the US and Europe on the top is not any more correct than putting hem on the bottom. After all, the earth viewed from space has no top or bottom and merely depends on the position of the viewer in space.

Many books have been written claiming a struggle between “Arabs” and “Jews.” Yet such a misleading terminology given without definition is accepted by many. Is an Arab someone whose mother tongue is Arabic? If so, would that then not include all those who practice the Jewish religion but whose language is Arabic (some one million people)? How about the 30 million Christians whose mother-tongue is Arabic? Is a Jew anyone who practices Rabbinical Judaism (developed in the third century AD)? Would those Jews who stopped practicing their religion count as Jewish? Would the Samaritans count as Jews (they practice an ancient Hebrew religion that predates Rabbinical Judaism). Would those who are secular and have never set foot in a synagogue be considered Jews? How does one deal with converts from one religion to another. Could Christians be considered also Jews because they ascribe also to the old testament and merely added to it. Should Muslims?

The land in question was called in history by various names, loaded terms that reflect certain ideological and political values: the Land of Canaan, Filastine, Palestine, Israel, Judea, Philistia, Bilad Al-Sham, and the Holy Land. When Israel was established, 530 Palestinian towns and villages were completely destroyed and their inhabitants expelled or fled. Israeli authorities then proceeded to rename every locality, every creek and river, and every hill and mountain. A special commissions was set-up just to do that while the Jewish agency imported hundreds of thousands of colonists in the 1950s to settle them in these renamed places. The Zionist movement made sure its educational system allowed settlers to quickly identify with the localities under the new given names, a way to tie the new immigrants to the ancient land. In struggling over control of this land, the etemology and etiology of this conflict were intertwined.

While the burdened history mirrors that of other parts of the world, the intensity and strength of conviction of the monotheistic religions added more emotional and etemological baggage. Some would argue that the added spirituality and public involvement of the monotheistic religions added fuel to the violence. Some would argue that religion is the best solution. But in either case, this conflict is not a religious conflict, it is a conflict which pitted a secular political movement (Zionism) against a native people whose answer to this political movement involved development of their own internal nationalism (pan-Arab or the limited Palestinian form of nationalism). Both native and outside people who ascribe to various religions supported one or the other political discourse but never along strictly religious lines. Palestinian Christians and many Palestinian Jews opposed Zionism for example. Some evangelical Christians have a dispensationalist interpretation of the Bible quite different than some more mainstream Christian theology. Some of them (like most Southern Baptists) thus strongly advocated Zionism. While one should never underestimate religious contributions, the facts of the past 55 years argue that all key decisions of war and peace were done by people with little or no religious agenda. Essentially all leaders of Israel have been secular as are the mainstream Palestinian movements (e.g. Fatah, PFLP, DFLP). Parties and groups like United Tora Judaism, Shas, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad are not but these have been more recent phenomena on the scene. Their impact is yet to be felt. In addressing how to solve the problem we must first deal with its political and social roots and these have been primarily not religious.

One could state that the history of the Palestinian conflict is a history of the Zionist program. Understanding this program and its history of successes and failures can be instructive. The Jewish population of Israel/Palestine grew from about 60,000 in 1917 at the eve of the Balfour Declaration to almost 5 million today. Land ownership in the past 60 years has been altered from 93% Christian and Muslim to now majority controlled by a supranational Jewish National FundӔ and Israel Lands Authority (both to service what is stated as the interests of Jewish people everywhereӔ). Yet, west of the river Jordan, disenfranchised and ghettoised, live some 5 million Palestinians under varying degrees of Israeli Zionist control. Of the total (roughly 9 million) Palestinians in the world, over 5 million are refugees or so called “displaced persons.” This picture has been the source of incredible violence whose victims have been by and large Palestinians but also Israeli. Despite all the violence that is now almost stereotypically associated with the Midde East, people do manage to work towards peace by non-violent methods. It is these non-violent methods offering the possibility of equality, coexistence, and redress of injustice that are the subject of this book. Before going deeply into this topic, I want to review in this first chapter briefly the history and nature of the conflict. This will have to be brief as it is covered extensively in hundreds of books. For those wanting a few books to cover the issues, I highly recommend books by Edward Said, Ilan Pappe, Nur Masalha, Norman Finkelstein, Noam Chomsky, and Tom Segev. These Palestinian and Israeli authors capture history and essence of the conflict outside of the classic Nationalist Palestinian, Islamist, or Israeli Zionist discourses.

The history of this area is a history of human civilization from its dawn. Neanderthal and Neolithic humans prospered in this area as in the rest of what was known as the fertile crescent, an area stretching form Iraq to Syria, Lebanon, and to Palestine. With development of agriculture and a stable food source, city-states evolved. These city-states sometimes competed and warred over resources and sometimes cooperated and traded. The rich Sumerian and Canaanitic cultures are now regarded as the cradles of civilization. Earlier languages like proto-Aramaic gave rise to Arabic and Hebrew. Canaanites first developed he alphabet. This alphabet has evolved and is now used by most of the world population in writings from European languages to later Canaantitic languages (like Aramaic, Hebrew, and Arabic) to many south Asian languages. Cultural and religious developments apparently occurred in this levantine mixed environment. Biblical texts were developed but in most cases reflected religious and mythological needs rather than historical documents. Yet, people of the area, native in every sence of the word acquired new religions and submitted to new rulers as they came along. Native Canaanites thus acquired monotheistic traditions of the ‘abiru (Hebrews, what later became known as the Jewish religion), Roman Pagan religions, Christianity (various forms of it that followed the teaching of Jesus or Yesou), Islam, among many other traditions.

Colonization

France, England, and Russia, had their eyes on colonizing areas then controlled by the Ottoman empire. Britain emerged with the strongest and largest land holdings after World War I. The French-British Sykes -Picot agreement in 1917 spelled ourt spheres of control of post Ottoman Middle East. The British Empire had always wanted to settle Jews in Palestine to guard its interests starting in 1841. In that year, Colonel Charles Henry Churchill, the British Consul in Syria, stated that success of such colonizing effort depended on: Firstly that the Jews themselves will take up the matter, universally and unanimously. Secondly that the European powers will aid them in their viewsӔ Epstein, L. J. 1984. Zions Call: Christian Contributions to the Origins and Development of Israel. New York: University Press of America. Lieutenant Colonel George Gawler (1796-1869) was tasked with formulating strategy for this colonization. His report published in a book format in 1845 was titled: “Tranquilization of Syria and the East: Observations and Practical Suggestions, in Furtherance of the Establishment of Jewish Colonies in Palestine, the Most Sober and Sensible Remedy for the Miseries of Asiatic Turkey”. In 1852 the Association for Promoting Jewish Settlement in Palestine was founded by Gawler and other British officials. This society later evolved into the Palestine Fund.

Bearing fruit with the first settlement in Palestine under the banner of colonialism was Rishon LeZion established in 1880. Yet, even in those early ears, many Zionsits understood the challenge faced in building a state for Jews in a land already inhabited mostly by non-Jews. Ahad Ha’Am reported to fellow Zionists upon visiting the area in 1891 that:

“We abroad are used to believe the Eretz Yisrael is now almost totally desolate, a desert that is not sowed ..... But in truth that is not the case. Throughout the country it is difficult to find fields that are not sowed. Only sand dunes and stony mountains .... are not cultivated.” (Benny Morris, Righteous Victims, p. 42)

Zionists also understood the challenge of local resistance to colonialization. Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the ideological father of the Likud party in Israel, wrote in 1923:

“They (native Palestinians) look upon Palestine with the same instinctive love and true favor that Aztec looked upon Mexico or any Sioux looked upon his prairie. Palestine will remain for the Palestinians not a borderland, but their birthplace, the center and basis of their own national existence.” (Morris, Righteous Victims, p. 36)

The Balfour declaration issued in 1917 committed “her majesty’s government” to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine. This at a time when Jews constituted less than 7% of the population and the land was not under British rule. Actually in 1906 there were some 50,000 Jews in a land of some 850,000 and of those, only a few hundred were so called Zionist Pioneers (settlers/colonists). Lord Balfour wrote in a private memorandum sent to Lord Curzon, his successor at the Foreign Office (Curzon initially opposed Zionism) on 11 August 1919:

“For in Palestine we do not propose to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants…. The four great powers are committed to Zionism and Zionism, be it right or wrong, good or bad, is rooted in age-long tradition, in present needs, in future hopes, of far profounder import than the desires and prejudices of the 700,000 Arabs who now inhabit that ancient land” (Quoted in Christopher Sykes, Crossroads to Israel 1917-1948 , reprinted Indiana University Press, Bloomingtron, IN, 1973).
Native Jews in Palestine were opposed or indifferent to the idea of Zionism. Jews across the world were also indifferent or opposed to it (this only changed after the Second World War).

Partition and Expulsion

A UN resolution in October 1947 recommended the division of Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state (55% and 45% respectively when Jewish land ownership was some 7%). This resolution was not implemented. Zionist leaders accepted the parts of it that call for a Jewish state but rejected all other parts: economic union, internationalization of Jerusalem, borders setting 55% for a Jewish state, 45% for a Palestinian Arab state, no displacement of people, according full civil and religious rights to people in both states.

In a speech addressing the Central Committee of the Histadrut on December 30, 1947, Ben Gurion commented on this resolution:

“In the area allocated to the Jewish State there are not more than 520,000 Jews and about 350,000 non-Jews, mostly Arabs. Together with the Jews of Jerusalem, the total population of the Jewish State at the time of its establishment, will be about one million, including almost 40% non-Jews. such a (population) composition does not provide a stable basis for a Jewish State. This (demographic) fact must be viewed in all its clarity and acuteness. With such a (population) composition, there cannot even be absolute certainty that control will remain in the hands of the Jewish majority .... There can be no stable and strong Jewish state so long as it has a Jewish majority of only 60%.” (Nur Masalha, Expulsion Of The Palestinians, p. 176)
The native people were not consulted on this resolution splitting the country artificially with ridiculous borders for both states and allocating sovereignty for 55% of it to 30% of the population (most of them new immigrants). Native Jews (not those arriving under the banner of Zionism were actually opposed to the concept of partition and a Jewish state. But we will not dwell on the wisdom of this recommendation as the history of what followed and the quagmire we are in speak eloquently to that. Between October 1947 and May 1948 (when the Arab Armies intervened), over half of the Palestinian refugees were driven out by Zionist forces. Benny Morris who is a Zionist historian and rejects the right of return of refugees stated:

“Above all, let me reiterate, the refugee problem was caused by attacks by Jewish forces on Arab villages and towns and by the inhabitants’ fear of such attacks, compounded by expulsions, atrocities, and rumors of atrocities—and by the crucial Israeli Cabinet decision in June 1948 to bar a refugee return.” (Benny Morris, “Revisiting the Palestinian Exodus of 1948”, pp. 37-59 in “The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948”, E. L. Rogan and A. Schlaim (eds.), Cambridge University Press. 2001)
Based on declassified Israeli documents, Morris, Ilan Pappe, Avi Shlaim, Tom Segev and other Israeli historians revealed the extent of the ethnic cleansing and its ramifications (which haunts us till today). The removal of the natives was accompanied by horrific acts of violence stretching from the 33 massacres during Al-Nakba (the Catastrophe of the 1947-1949 expulsions) to the violence in the occupied areas today.

The current untenable situation

As a condition of its admittance to the United Nations in 1949, Israel promised to abide by UN resolutions and International human rights laws including UN resolution 194 and Geneva conventiosn which all speak of the right of refugees to return to their homes and lands. Yet, these refugees who in 1949 numbered 800,000 and today number over 4.5 million, were prevented by force from realizing their right of return.

Instead Israel immediately instituted laws to prevent them from returning and consolidate transforming a country predominantly Arab (Muslim and Christian) to a Jewish state. The Israeli army proceeded to secure the borders first to prevent those who fled from going back. Hundreds of peasants were killed trying to cross the border after the war to return to their farms, businesses and lands. Israel immediately seized all Palestinian property considered as absentee property. This included the property (movable and immovable) of 800,000 Palestinians who were made refugees. But it also included the property of one fourth of the Palestinians who remained within the new state of Israel, some of them hid in caves or nearby towns to escaped the fighting and yet their land and property was lumped with all other “absentee” property and turned over to the Jewish Agency to use to settle the new wave of Jewish settlers/colonists.

Israel considers the Land of Israel (Palestine) as belonging not to its citizens (even after the removal of 70% of the Palestinian natives between 1947-1948) but to “Jewish people everywhere.” 93% of its land (most of it taken from Palestinians) is thus reserved for Jewish settlements and colonies.

Palestinian citizens of Israel (called Israeli Arabs by Zionists) include 20-25% “Present absentees” (in Hebrew, nochihim nifkadim) as Israeli law calls them or displaced people as International law calls them. These non-Jewish citizens are denied the right to their own lands which is confiscated as “absentee” property by law and turned to the Jewish National Fund for administration and lease to Jews.

Further over 100 “unrecognized villages” are denied basic services because their residents are non-Jews. We must add to this all the Palestinians who were forced to sell their property to the state or to Jews while under duress. While unemployment today among Israeli Jews is in the single digit, unemployment among the Palestinians who are citizens of Israel is nearly 30% (it is 50-70% in the areas of the West Bank and Gaza whose Palestinian residents lack any citizenship.
Israel’s basic laws (which are now considered as the closest thing to a constitution which never materialized) are unique to say the least. Israel is the only country in the world that distinguishes citizenship from nationality recognizing members of a certain religion (in this case Judaism including converts) as nationals of the state (called by Israeli law the nation of Israel or “Am Yisrael”) entitled to automatic rights including citizenship, land, homes, subsidies). These rights that supercede those of its own “citizens” who belong to other religions. Because of this Israel is the only country in the world whose parliament debates things like “who is Jewish” and enacts discriminatory laws based on religious affiliations.

The Palestinians who miraculously remained under Israeli rule after the large scale ethnic cleansing in 1947-1949 as discussed live as sixth or tenth class citizens, deprived of rights, of lands, or resources etc. But their plight pales compared to those who ended up as refugees discussed earlier and those who came under Israeli occupation in 1967 as Israel continued to expand its borders.

Israel initiated a war in 1967 in which it captured what remained of Palestine (22% called the West Bank and Gaza). This resulted in removal of another 250 to 300,000 Palestinians, some of them thus made refugees for the second time

Israel did not want to annex them immediately because these areas had still a large population of Palestinians including over 22 refugee camps. Immediately after Israel launched the war of 1967 and captured the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights, Israel engaged in large scale settlement activity in the occupied areas in defiance of the 4th Geneva convention. Jewish settlements/colonies in the areas occupied in 1967 now house 400,000 colonists on land belonging to the native Palestinian people.

Israel wanted the land but not the people. So they proceeded to confiscate agricultural lands, hills, valleys etc and build settlements, military bases and other points of control. Squeezing the economics in such a way that the percent of Palestinians employed in agriculture dropped from 80% in 1966 to some 20% and unemployment increased from 10% to 70% today.

Israel has literally fenced in 1.2 million people in a large prison called Gaza (70% of them are Palestinian refugees), a place now with the highest density of people anywhere on earth and causing the highest rate of poverty in the Middle East. Israel is now building walls to “fence off” the towns of the West Bank in an analogous fashion (see http://stopthewall.org)

Israel in the past three years engaged in a large scale extrajudicial execution program (this is considered a war crime according to the Hague and Geneva conventions; no wonder Israel and its patron the US refused to ratify the International Criminal Court system). Army units are allowed to act as judge, jury, and executioner.

Israel had several prime ministers who are wanted terrorists (like Shamir, Sharon or Menachem Begin who was responsible for the massacre at King David Hotel and was listed as wanted by the British “dead or alive”) or who bragged about their crimes of ethnic cleansing (e.g. Rabin). Amnesty documented war crimes by Sharon, Mofaz and BenEliezer in Jenin and Nablus. To quote from Amnesty:

“The situation In Jenin and Nablus the IDF carried out actions which violate international human rights and humanitarian law; some of these actions amount to grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 1949 (the Fourth Geneva Convention) and are war crimes.” source

Israeli leaders instead get away with calling the natives names like: non-existent/“they never existed” (Golda Meir, 1969) “crocodiles” (Ehud Barak, 2000), “grasshoppers” (Yitzhak Shamir, 1988), “beasts walking on two legs” (Menachem Begin, 1982), “like drugged cockroaches in a bottle” (IDF Chief of Staff Raphael Eitan , 1983), and “from another galaxy” (President Moshe Katsav).

Israel is the only country in the world that practices torture codified and approved by its parliament. Despite a widely publicized Supreme Court ruling, Israeli forces are entrusted to interpret the law regarding “ticking bomb” situations and apply any kind of “moderate physical pressure” (torture) deemed useful without legal intervention or supervision.

Israel is the only country in the world that obliterated and looted over 450 native towns and villages, completely erasing them off the face of the map. Israel still systematically demolishes homes (thousands so far in the past couple of years) and agricultural areas and confiscates lands to transfer to members of another religion.

Israel is the only country in the world in which citizens must serve three year compulsory service and have to return regularly to the army every year for reserve duty (exception made for Orthodox Jews who have life long Torah/Talmud studies and most Palestinian citizens who are not welcome in the army of the Jewish state).

Every single human rights organization that visited the area issued reports stating that the Israeli government and its forces seem to target civilians and exhibit reckless disregard for human life. Not one human rights non-governmental organization agreed with Israeli government propaganda that they are careful not to kill civilians and that civilians killed are “accidental” (so far in two years over 2000 Palestinian civilians were killed by Israeli forces including over 300 children).

As documented by Amnesty International and Human Rights watch, Israel now holds 3.5 million people essentially hostages in their own homes denying them the right to travel, work, and even go to school, clinics, or places of worship (Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza).

Israeli forces target civilians for political purposes (the classic definition of terrorism). Here are several lines of proof from independent sources.

Physicians for Human Rights USA investigated the high number of Palestinian deaths and injuries in the first months of the Intifada, concluded that: “the pattern of injuries seen in many victims did not reflect IDF (Israel Defense Forces) use of firearms in life-threatening situations but rather indicated targeting solely for the purpose of wounding or killing.”

Yediot Aharonot (Hebrew Edition, 11/17/00) quoted Tal Etlinger, a “border guard” trained to quell demonstrations as stating that riots at Um Al Fahm (where scores of unarmed Palestinian citizens of Israel were shot and many killed by snipers) were much less violent than Jewish riots (such as in Tiberias) which were “much worse..but we handle Jewish riots differently..to a demonstration like this we know in advance to come without weapons.. These are the orders from above, and we use only gas.”

Human Rights Watch issued a report May 3, 2002 on Israeli atrocities in Jenin stating in part: ғcivilians (in Jenin]) were killed willfully or unlawfully (by the Israeli military). (which) used Palestinian civilians as human shieldsђ and used indiscriminate and excessive force.. The abuses we documented in Jenin are extremely serious, and in some cases appear to be war crimes..”

New York Times journalist Chris Hedges wrote: ” And it was—I mean, I’ve seen kids shot in Sarajevo. I mean, snipers would shoot kids in Sarajevo. I’ve seen death squads kill families in Algeria or El Salvador. But I’d never seen soldiers bait or taunt kids like this and then shoot them for sport. It was—I just—even now, I find it almost inconceivable. And I went back every day, and every day it was the same.”

Videos clearly implicated the army where soldiers were cavalier about killing civilians: BBC obtains video showing shelling children running away.

In an article in the Washington Post, Keith Richburg reported (11/ 30/2000; Page A01): “Iyad was shot because he ran too fast. Nshat was shot because he missed his ride. Ronny was shot for throwing a stone. And Abdel Kareem was shot where his two friends died. Iyad, Nshat, Ronny and Abdel Kareem had never met before. But these four young Palestinians now see one another daily, as patients at the Abu Raya Rehabilitation Center.”

Moshe Nissim, who operated a bulldozer for 75 straight hours in Jenin was quoted in Yediot Ahoronot:

“No one refused an order to take down a house. When they told me to destroy a house I exploited that in order to destroy a few more homes. On the loudspeaker [the Palestinian residents] were warned to get out before I came in. But I didn’t give a chance to anyone. I didn’t wait. I’m sure that people died inside of those houses. From my perspective we left them a football field, they should play there. The 100x100 was our present to the camp. Jenin will not return to be what it was.” (Yedioth Ahronot, Friday 31 May 2002, translated by Alternative Information Center).

B’Tselem, the Israeli Human Rights group, reported in October 2001 that “the IDF continues to employ a policy of ‘an easy trigger-finger’ and demonstrates a disregard for human life.” In one Press Release (12 March 2002) B’Tselem stated: “In every city and refugee camp that they have entered, IDF soldiers have repeated the same pattern: indiscriminate firing and the killing of innocent civilians, intentional harm to water, electricity and telephone infrastructure, taking over civilian houses, extensive damage to civilian property, shooting at ambulances and prevention of medical care to the injured.”

Investigations by Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, Physicians For Human Rights, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, and the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights have all contradicted the Israeli army assertions that they are showing restraint and have documented patterns of human rights violations by the Israeli occupation authorities. These detailed reports are available online and refute Israeli government lines that they have acted merely to protect lives and to ensure security. Even the politically biased US State department said this in its annual report on Human rights

Israel’s overall human rights record in the occupied territories was poor, continuing a deterioration that began in late 2000, after the beginning of the sustained violence of the Intifada. Israeli security forces committed numerous, serious human rights abuses during the year. Security forces killed at least 501 Palestinians and 1 foreign national and injured 6,300 Palestinians and other persons during the year, including innocent bystanders. Israeli security forces targeted and killed at least 33 Palestinians whom the Israeli authorities suspected had in the past attacked or were planning to attack Israeli settlements, civilians, or military targets. On August 27, Israeli forces also killed the secretary general of the political wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which some claimed expanded the scope of such operations to include political figures. Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups stated that four of those killed were not directly involved in terrorist activities. At least 18 other persons, including 4 children, killed by Israeli forces during such operations were bystanders, relatives, or associates of those targeted.

In contravention of their own rules of engagement, which provide that live fire is to be used only when the lives of soldiers, police, or civilians are in imminent danger, Israeli security units often used excessive force against Palestinian demonstrators including live fire. IDF forces also shelled PA institutions and Palestinian civilian areas in response to Palestinian attacks on Israeli targets. Israeli security forces killed 93 Palestinians and injured 1,500 in these attacks. The IDF killed another 68 Palestinians during Israeli incursions into Palestinian-controlled territory (Area A). Israeli security forces frequently impeded the provision of medical assistance to Palestinian civilians by their strict enforcement of internal closures, which reportedly contributed to at least 32 deaths. Israeli security forces harassed and abused Palestinian pedestrians and drivers who were attempting to pass through the more than 130 Israeli-controlled checkpoints in the occupied territories. During the year, human rights organizations, including B’tselem, Human Rights Watch, the Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment (LAW), and the Mandela Institute for Political Prisoners reported that there was an increase in the number of allegations that Israeli security forces tortured detainees, including using methods prohibited in a 1999 High Court decision; there also were numerous allegations that police officers beat detainees. The Government states that the security forces have complied with the High Court’s decision and that the Attorney General’s office investigates any allegations of mistreatment. Two Palestinian prisoners died in Israeli custody under ambiguous circumstances during the year. Prison conditions were poor. Prolonged detention, limits on due process, and infringements on privacy rights remained problems. The IDF destroyed numerous orchards, olive and date groves, and irrigation systems on Palestinian-controlled agricultural land, and demolished the homes of Palestinians suspected of terrorism, without judicial review. Israeli authorities censored Palestinian publications in East Jerusalem. Some journalists who were covering the clashes were injured and killed by IDF fire. The Israeli authorities placed limits on freedom of assembly, and severely restricted freedom of movement for Palestinians. Israeli security forces failed to prevent, and in some cases protected, some Israelis who entered Palestinian-controlled areas in the West Bank and injured and killed several Palestinians. Full report


Human Rights Organizations sometimes even issued joint press releases and declarations. In an open letter addressed to leaders of U.S., E.U., Israel, P.A., and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan (June 6, 2001), Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called for the dispatch of international human rights monitors (even while Israel objected). They stated:

” the clashes between Israelis and Palestinians since October 2000 have been marked by systematic violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Civilians have been the main victims of the violence, and an immediate priority must be to bring such violations to an end. At least 470 Palestinians have been killed, most of them unlawfully by Israeli security forces when their lives and the lives of others were not in danger. More than 120 Israelis have been killed, most of them civilians deliberately targeted by armed groups and individuals. The death toll includes more than 130 children.”

The letter goes on to document abuses of Human Rights both by the Israeli government and the settlers and also by individual and groups of Palestinians. The letter said that the joint Israeli-Palestinian Authority security committees have not been able to address these recurrent human rights and humanitarian law violations on their own.  (A copy of the letter.

B’Tselem, the Israeli Human Rights group, reported in October 2001 that “the IDF continues to employ a policy of ‘an easy trigger-finger’ and demonstrates a disregard for human life.” In one Press Release (12 March 2002) B’Tselem stated: “In every city and refugee camp that they have entered, IDF soldiers have repeated the same pattern: indiscriminate firing and the killing of innocent civilians, intentional harm to water, electricity and telephone infrastructure, taking over civilian houses, extensive damage to civilian property, shooting at ambulances and prevention of medical care to the injured.”

The U.S.-based Physicians for Human Rights sent forensics experts and an orthopedic surgeon to the region. The team concluded in an early November report that the Israeli army “has used live ammunition and rubber bullets excessively and inappropriately to control demonstrators, and that based on the high number of documented injuries to the head and thighs, soldiers appear to be shooting to inflict harm, rather than solely in self-defense.”

Physicians for Human Rights USA investigated the high number of Palestinian deaths and injuries in the first months of the Intifada, concluded that: “the pattern of injuries seen in many victims did not reflect IDF [Israel Defense Forces] use of firearms in life-threatening situations but rather indicated targeting solely for the purpose of wounding or killing.”

Physicians for Human Rights addressed the violations in October 2001 when Israeli forces entered Palestinian areas, shelled clinics, prevented medical care, and attacked medical personnel doing their job:

“Israeli security forces caused severe damage to medical infrastructure in Beit Jalla and Bethlehem. This damage almost completely prevents the functioning of the healthcare systems in the region. Today, not only do patients find it almost impossible to access medical aid, and doctors cannot reach their work—now even patients within medical institutions are exposed to gunfire and danger of injury and death.” (Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, 10/24/01).

Amnesty International issued a report 23 October 2001 stating that it is “gravely concerned at recent reports of random shelling and shootings by the Israeli Defense Force in Palestinian residential areas, among them Jenin, Ramallah, Tulkarm, Bethlehem and Beit Jala, which has left at least 25 Palestinians killed, among them several children, and scores of others injured, in retaliation for the killing of the Israeli Minister of Tourism, Rehavam Zeevi on 17 October.” Amnesty also issued a press release asking the international community to act to end Israel’s policy of closures and house demolition. It stated in part:

“The confinement of more than three million people for 10 months to their own villages or homes by curfews and closures is a totally unacceptable response to the violence of a few,” the organization said. Amnesty International “welcomed the European Union’s call on Monday 16 July for international observers. But the international community must not wait any longer before acting to unblock what has become an intolerable situation” (AI, 18 July 2001).

The use of torture by Israeli forces has been well documented by Human Rights organizations. In fact torture as method of obtaining confessions was considered legal in Israel for 52 years until an ambiguous Israeli high court decision of 1999. The high court decision, like many others before it has not been adhered to (unlike the US, high court decisions are not independently enforced as they are in the US). One high court decision in 1951 to return the villagers of Ikrit and Biram to their homes and lands is still to be implemented (50 years forward) and the Israeli cabinet formally rejected it on 10 October 2001 for “security concerns” and because it “would set a precedent for other displaced Palestinians who all demand to return to their homes and lands.” the Associated Press reported on July 11, 2001 that Danes were incensed over the appointment of Carmi Gilon, the previous director of Israel’s Shin Bet services (the secret service that engaged in torture) as ambassador to Denmark. He continued to defend torture and boasted that he “authorized about 100 cases of torture while heading Shin Bet.”

In an article in the Washington Post, Keith Richburg reported (November 30, 2000; Page A01): “Iyad was shot because he ran too fast. Nshat was shot because he missed his ride. Ronny was shot for throwing a stone. And Abdel Kareem was shot where his two friends died. Iyad, Nshat, Ronny and Abdel Kareem had never met before. But these four young Palestinians now see one another daily, as patients at the Abu Raya Rehabilitation Center.”

Human Rights Watch reported results of its investigation into the killing of 12 year old Muhammad Al-Durra and found that he was not in “cross-fire” neither was he or his father presenting a threat to Israeli forces when they shot at them for close to 20 minutes (HRW report 21 November 2000).

In an interview with Ha’aretz reporter Amira Hass, a one Israeli sniper described the commands he receives from his superiors: “Twelve and up, you’re allowed to shoot. That’s what they tell us,” he said. “So,” responded the reporter “according to the IDF, (the appropriate minimum age group at which to shoot) is 12?” the soldier replied, “According to what the IDF says to its soldiers. I don’t know if this is what the IDF says to the media.”

In a report dated November 20, 2001 titled “Israel Fails to Address Increasing Use of Torture”, Amnesty International wrote:

“Amnesty International’s briefing to the Committee stated that, since the September 1999 High Court of Justice judgment which banned interrogation methods constituting torture, there has been strong evidence that these methods - including sleep deprivation often seated in painful positions; prolonged squatting on haunches; painful handcuffing - are now being used again.

We regret that notwithstanding the High Court of Justice’s 1999 ruling and the Committee Against Torture’s clear statement in 1997 that these methods constitute torture, the State of Israel, in its report to the Committee, continues to deny this.”

“Amnesty International also called on the Committee Against Torture to declare that the demolition of Palestinian homes constitutes cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment under Article 16 of the Convention Against Torture. The European Court of Human Rights has deemed Turkish demolition of houses to constitute inhuman treatment in breach of Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights….Amnesty International also considers that other forms of collective punishment carried out by the Israeli authorities, including the prolonged closures of towns, villages and whole areas, denying freedom of movement to Palestinians, and prolonged curfews might also fall under Article 16 of the Convention.”

Human Rights Watch issued a report May 3, 2002 on Israeli atrocities in Jenin stating in part:

(Palestinian) civilians [in Jenin] were killed willfully or unlawfully (by the Israeli military). . . . (which) used Palestinian civilians as ӑhuman shields and used indiscriminate and excessive force. . . . The abuses we documented in Jenin are extremely serious, and in some cases appear to be war crimes. . .”


Amnesty International was also clear that return of refugees is a basic human right that cannot be denied. In their report of March 2001, AI stated:

ғWith regard to the specific issue of Palestinian exiles [] durable solutions respectful of their human rights must be made available to them in any final peace agreement. Their right to return has been recognized by the United Nations since UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (III) of 11 December 1948 Ņ and continues to be recognised by authoritative bodies within the UN system for the protection of human rights. Any peace agreement reached should resolve the issue of the Palestinian diaspora through means that respect and protect individual human rights.  there are other considerations that must be addressed in the negotiations—the security concerns of both sides, for instance—but these issues must be resolved within a framework that does not sacrifice individual human rights to political expediencyŔ

Similarly Human Rights Watch stated [Any viable final] agreement should recognize [the right of return] for Palestinian refugees and exiles from territory located in what is now Israel or in what is likely to be a future state of Palestine. Ӆ Like all rights, the right to return binds governments. No government can violate this right. Only individuals may elect not to exercise it. [] the international community has a duty to ensure that claims of a right to return are resolved fairly, that individual holders of the right are permitted freely and in an informed manner to choose whether to exercise it, and that returns proceed in a gradual and orderly manner.Ŕ (Human Rights Watch, December 2000)

 


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